Volunteers pulled a dryer from Dredge Lake, bicycles out of the woods and a TV set from under the bridge at the end of Montana Creek Road during the annual spring cleanup Saturday.
Those items were a fraction of the 23,180 pounds of trash found along roadsides and in stream beds. For the third year, Litter Free and the Mendenhall Watershed Partnership coordinated to get about 1,500 school kids and at least 200 other volunteers picking up trash on Friday and Saturday.
"The people who come out, they're so gung-ho," said Cheryl Van Dyke, who helped organize the cleanup effort for the Mendenhall Watershed Partnership. "They've got their shovels and rakes and hoes and hip-waders."
Ray Massey brought his rubber raft too, paddling through a wide spot on Duck Creek to pull up garbage stuck in the orange muck. He found a bit of everything "from the proverbial condom to a sled," Massey said, pointing at a pile of bulging yellow trash bags and twisted metal beside the road. Like the bags along Egan Drive on Saturday morning, it was soon hauled away by community contractors who took the trash to the landfill for free.
Massey even retrieved a pair of roller blades, floating side-by-side. Those, like the bicycles, were probably left by kids, he said. In other places he could tell that bears had dragged a trash bag to the creek for a picnic lunch.
"A lot of the trash is just blown in accidentally," Van Dyke said. But in some places, like the end of Montana Creek Road, garbage was clearly dumped or left there after parties. Bruce Bigelow worked with a rake and a shovel to clear out the charred remains of numerous celebrations at the end of Montana Creek Road.
"There was litter everywhere," Bigelow said. "It's just amazing where people will throw their trash."
One pickup load of pallets and trash bags had already been hauled away as Bigelow continued to rake up broken glass and bottle caps. The area reeked of rotting flesh from a carcass he'd found wrapped in an old blanket.
"I hate to see the stream look like a dump," Bigelow said.
Some of the worst debris in the streams was yard waste, dumped in by people who don't realize their tree branches, leaf piles and old Christmas trees will hurt the creek, Van Dyke said.
"Lawn clippings, surprisingly, are one of the worst pollutants because they have fertilizer and they don't break down quickly," Van Dyke said
Carl Ferlauto waded into Duck Creek to break up dams of scrap lumber, tree clippings and leaf piles blocking the streams flow. The dams created stagnant pools that were starving cutthroat trout spawning beds along that section of the stream, Ferlauto said
"People are feeding 'natural' trash into the stream much faster than the stream can consume it," Ferlauto said.
The unnatural trash was even more prevalent. Food wrappers, beer cans and about 50 vodka bottles cluttered Jordan Creek until Sam Capp and his wife, Debera Cokeley, went down to clean it up. The section of creek disgorged a pickup load worth of junk, including an old chair, several tires and a 55 gallon drum of oil.
"We live nearby and it just gets so trashed that we can't hardly stand to walk by, so that's basically why we clean it," said Capp, who does regular cleanups on the stream the rest of the year as well.
Steve Seymour filled two bags with plastic drink bottles as he combed a section of Duck Creek between McGinnis Street and Duran Street. During high water the bottles collect in eddies there, where they stay when the water level drops. Seymour's sons, aged 5 and 2, worked alongside him.
"They're my helpers. They get into all the places between the willows where I can't go," Seymour said. "Maybe one of these days the creek will be clean and they'll be able to even fish in it."
Kristan Hutchison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.